Get back: Cast into the wilderness

A monthly series following Rob Cowen and Leo Critchley as they reconnect with the simpler things in life
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The Independent Travel

You may be under the impression that fishing is an exclusive sport, requiring high-end equipment. But with only a couple of pounds spent on shop-bought items and a bit of knowledge, you can create an effective – if basic – rod and tackle.

A fishing pole is best made from a thin, standing-dead hazel sapling – lighter than green wood but less likely to be rotten than fallen branches. Snap or saw the tallest one you can find close to the base in order to maximize the overall length (ideally around three or four metres). The length allows you to lower bait in specific areas, and reach the best "swims". The odd kink here and there doesn't matter, but remove any twigs or burs.

Now find a large feather to make a float – goose or swan are best. Trim away the feathers so only the central quill remains and cut off the thinner top end so the whole thing measures 15cm. Hold this up to the light and you will see the air chamber at the bottom. This gives the float its buoyancy. In order to attach this to a line, you need to fold the solid top third of the quill over on itself. Do this by hollowing out a centimetre-wide groove at the fold point, being careful not to work all the way through. Bending the top third over should then form an "eyelet", which your fishing line can be fed through. If it does, tie the folded end down. If not, hollow out more until you see the hole.

Nylon fishing line, a hook and a couple of small weights can be bought cheaply in any tackle or outdoor sports shop. The length of line required depends on the depth of the river, but you want a metre between rod tip and float and then whatever will leave your hook about 7cm above the river bottom. Attach the weights so they are equally spaced between the hook and the float.

We tried our homemade rod on the river Teifi in Wales, which wound its way through the terrain like a ribbon, the bright morning gleaming across its polished surface. Wading through grass, comfrey and nettles, we negotiated a crumbling bank, our hazel rods handily doubling as walking sticks.

Our best bet lay on the margins where the water was still, beef-stock brown and ruffled only by a gentle eddy bobbling back upstream. We swung out our bait, a worm dug from the adjoining meadow, and settled down to wait.

Fishing requires total silence. Amid this calm, time starts to slip away downstream. Hours fly by as if minutes, our eyes drawn to the hypnotic movement of a float drifting at the whim of the river's time. Breathing becomes deeper, the muscles relax and the mind empties. Fishing is meditation, even if we don't realise it. The rod a conduit for the angler's skills and knowledge, an extension of ourselves that allows us to commune with the water and its banks. The more personal it is, the closer we get.

And what banks. On this wildlife-crammed stretch of river, blue-tailed damselflies appeared to dance where rays lit the water. Evening fell on a scene so entrancing that neither of us reacted when the rod tip moved. The hazel jumped again and this time we both dived for the pole. A flash of silver near the surface, a flapping jolt and the sapling flexed as we lifted our catch.

Just 10cm long, the young wild brown trout seemed as big as the white whale in our eyes, and we quickly removed the hook from the corner of its mouth. Under his russet flanks and gold spots, a slow heartbeat, surprisingly powerful in the palm. We looked into its unblinking eye before lowering it back into the river. With a splash, it was gone.

Time spent fashioning a rod and fishing brought an important connection. Below the surface, our rivers, lakes and ponds are fascinating places. From pike to rudd, grayling to minnow, dynasties exist in and around these hidden worlds, but ones we rarely get to see. Fishing draws us closer. Although some may feel it is an invasion, we found catching our fish to be a reminder of the importance of their preservation.

Places to test your tackle

Fishing in saltwater is free, but anglers need a rod licence for freshwater in England and Wales. Day (£3.75) and seasonal licences (under-12s free; 12 to 16 £5; adults £27) can be bought online at; the money is reinvested in protecting our river ecosystems.

* The Maltsters Arms, Tuckenhay, Devon

Keith Floyd's old pub is a wonderful place to try out your homemade rod. Overlooking Bow Creek, a tributary of the Dart, the banks are rich with flora and fauna. Owner George Welsh is happy to point out the spots to catch red mullet and sea bass. Should you return empty handed, he will entertain you into the wee hours with conciliatory pints. B&B from £85.

* Bullock Farm Campsite, Somerset

Close to the coastal, countryside village of Kingston Seymour near Bristol, this campsite lets you roll out a tent pretty much adjacent to its five freshwater lakes for just £5. Brimming with fish, this angler's idyll was recently voted in the top 50 fisheries in the UK by both the Angler's Mail and the Angling Times.

* Sleningford Watermill Caravan & Camping, Ripon, Yorkshire

Spend peaceful nights under canvas in the beautiful surroundings of this old watermill and wildlife hotspot and long days on the picturesque stretches of the River Ure, which weaves majestically nearby through verdant countryside (pitches from £17).

* Bartles Lodge B&B, Dereham, Norfolk

In the sleepy village of Elsing, Chris and Jane offer cosy bed and breakfast accommodation situated in 11 acres of beautiful grounds. Wander with your DIY rod to any of the three well-stocked fishing lakes. A little farther away, the river Wensum winds its way through villages and countryside where there are also day ticket stretches available. B&B from £62.